Enabling in recovery

The scourge of drug addiction has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the country, and millions of people have already been impacted by chronic diseases like alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder.

For families caring for an addicted loved one, daily life means walking a fine line, one that allows them to provide help without enabling a dangerous, destructive, and potentially deadly lifestyle.

If you have been personally affected by the epidemic of drug addiction, you already know how difficult your everyday interactions can be.

Whether you are getting together for the holidays, providing a safe place to land so someone you love can avoid homelessness, or just serving as a shoulder to cry on, it is easy to worry that you have crossed the line from a caring friend or relative to unwitting enabler.

Tips for Avoiding Enabling Your Addicted Friend or Loved One

Staying on the right side of the line between caring and enabling is not an easy thing to do, and you may not know that you have crossed that line until a great deal of damage has been done.

Whether the addict in question is a child or grandchild, aunt or uncle, mom or dad, or just a friend, you want to help them survive their disease without enabling them to continue with their addiction.

  • So how do you tread that line? How do you avoid crossing over from caring to enabling? Here are some tips to let you care for your addicted loved one without enabling their addiction.


  • Learn as much as you can. Substance use disorder is a surprisingly complex illness and one that can manifest in many different ways. If you want to start helping and stop enabling your loved one, start by learning as much as you can about what addiction is like and why getting help is so important.


  • Build a support structure. No matter how lonely you might feel, you are not alone in your struggles. Millions of other people are dealing with the scourge of addiction in the people they love, and their experiences, their support and their knowledge could prove pivotal as you move forward.


  • Set boundaries. If you act like a doormat, your addicted loved ones will treat you that way. If you want to stop enabling and start helping, you need to set firm boundaries. These rules of the road may include obvious things like forbidding the use of drugs or alcohol in your home and not allowing drug or alcohol abusing friends to enter the premises.


  • Adopt a tough-love attitude. It is easy to fall into the enabling trap, especially when you have your loved one’s best interest at heart. You may worry, for instance, that your son, daughter, mom, or dad does not have money for food, but providing cash will only enable their addiction. It may be hard to do, but adopting a tough-love attitude is a critical first step in convincing your loved one to seek help.


  • Attend therapy as a family. Substance use disorder can feel like a lonely disease, and it is important to let your loved ones know that they are not alone as they feel. Attending therapy meetings as a family can ease the loneliness of addiction and get your loved one another step closer to seeking treatment.


  • Keep encouraging your drug-addicted loved one to get help. There is help available for drug and alcohol addiction, but the decision to seek that assistance can seem insurmountable. If you want your loved ones to get the help they need, you need to be persistent, talking about recovery centers and the assistance they offer, providing the necessary resources, and educating yourself about what to expect during and after rehab.

Being a source of comfort for your loved one does not have to mean enabling their behavior. If you really want to help your drug or alcohol-addicted loved one, you need to stay on the right side of the line, the one between caring support and dangerous enabling.